When considering potential products and services to offer, it can be useful to look at the nature of the target audiences involved. Inbound marketing based on niche communities represent the ultimate dream for retailers that want to sell direct at incredible margins. Some groups can be more readily persuaded to buy online and to help evangelize a product solution.
So what does an ideal niche look like? Here’s a checklist of desirable audience traits to test product ideas against.
Traits of an ideal niche audience
Readily targetable – using advertising or organic means, it’s possible to make content and messaging available to your group. Having a unique user persona is great but it will be of limited use if you’re not able to identify similar users in the marketplace or to reach them.
Impressionable – Some groups are more open to persuasion than others. Users that follow influencers on social media or that read learning publications or videos, show that they are interested in advice and suggestions.
Self-motivated – Offering utilitarian products has its place. For the small brand selling online though, it’s especially helpful to operate in an industry where the users are motivated by personal passion. That could be a cause, a personal hobby, a mark of individualism or other thing that generates emotion.
Buying power – Audience members should be willing and able to buy online. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ultra wealthy as long as they have some discretionary income. These users should be comfortable moving from browse to purchase without getting overly caught up with privacy or security concerns.
Part of a community – If there isn’t a place to discuss the industry you can always create something and add value by cultivating it. But it’s even better if there’s an existing one that you can leverage and participate in. Online discussion boards or meetups provide a great way to hear from potential customers directly and you can mine the existing chatter for clues about what motivates purchasing behavior.
Example Niches – Meat Thermometers and Carbide Chisels
Hobbyists that don’t do work as a professional but that want to dabble are a prime opportunity for niche brands. There are plenty of weekend warriors that want to buy their way into upping their game, whatever that game may be. One example of a brand that benefits from this kind of audience is Thermoworks, who is the undisputed leader in digital meat thermometers. Chefs swear by the Thermapen, considered the Cadillac of instant read thermometers for its accuracy and speed. Home chefs likely have very little need for a thermometer that can measure accurately to the tenth of a degree, or that can create a readout in 3 seconds instead of 10 seconds. But if they just spent thousands on a new outdoor kitchen and want to follow their Big Green Egg recipes closely, spending $100 to get the best thermometer seems worth it. This kind of narrow focus has allowed Thermoworks to attain an enviable market leader position and they have such a cult following that they can afford to avoid marketplaces like Amazon.com entirely.
The content opportunity for brands catering to a specific niche is to show the output that pros get out of their high end tools. By demonstrating what’s possible, ambitious amateurs are offered a tempting shortcut to improving their own skills. And while huge hobby categories like woodworking have been crowded with vendors forever, there are sub-categories with specialized tools like creating bowls from stumps through wood turning. As an interested beginner you can get a cheap set of chisels from Harbor Freight to do the job. But if you want to use the tools that the big accounts on Instagram use to create their works of art, you’ll have to pop for a premium brand like Robert Sorby and their titanium-nitride Turnmaster with tungsten carbide cutting head.
So where do you go to find categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories? Communities are a good place to start. Anywhere people organize to discuss their passions and hobbies can be a great source for ideas. There is a seemingly unending supply of obscure subreddits where users discuss their unique needs and preferred brands. Sites like subredditstats.com can help to identify groups that are gaining momentum. Meetup.org is another place to see how people self-identify around interests. This can be a good way to spot emerging trends to seek out new opportunities. Axe throwing, whiskey tasting and creating and ice carousels have only recently become relatively mainstream and each have their own accompanying set of specialized accessories.
Moving in and taking over
Once a community is identified, it’s best to create a product offering at the high end of the market to command the best prices, presuming you can demonstrate that your product is obviously much better than the others. But that is easier said than done, especially for lucrative niche markets. As an alternative, you can position yourself as the affordable version of an existing brand (like RTIC did for YETI) or create an ordering experience that’s faster or easier than the rest (like Bulk Reef Supply did for salt water aquarium hobbyists) or another way of differentiating from the current line up. The products may seem weird to the general public, but to the right audience they’re the stuff of dreams.
There are plenty of reasons to like podcast advertising. One reason that might be known to interrogators but not obvious to the rest of us is the podcast audience’s state of mind while consuming content and its vulnerability to suggestion.
Podcast ad revenue
Spending on podcast advertising continues to grow at a blistering pace. According to IAB, ad revenue growth jumped from $69 million among the largest companies surveyed in 2015 to $119 million in 2016 and a forecasted $220 million in 2017.
It’s not too difficult to see why podcasting is a hot market. Advertisers are seeing the value in the direct relationship between host and listeners. With production costs low compared to other mediums, there are shows dedicated to very niche topics, with hosts passionate about their material. That makes them an influencer with that community, with credibility and remarkable recommendation power. Compared to digital display ads, podcasting offers a much less competitive landscape that’s naturally ad-blocker resistant.
In addition to these benefits, podcasts are unique because of the setting they’re consumed in. Subscribers often listen while doing other activities, including exercising. Distance runners, weight lifters and all kinds of athletes that train in long stretches need something to pass the time and podcasts are a wonderful solution. The reason that’s important to advertisers is that physical fatigue can bring down our mental defenses and make us more likely to be influenced by suggestion.
According to an article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, individuals that are fatigued show a greater susceptibility to yielding to leading questions. This is one of the reasons that intense interrogations are often preceded by periods of sleep deprivation. Taken too far, this technique is so successful it can lead to false confessions. During an intense workout, podcast listeners are more likely to be convinced and influenced by effective ad messaging.
The interrogator analogy paints an alarming picture with advertisers playing the role of brain-washer. But our malleability during physical training can be empowering for the listener too. If you’re having a hard time making a positive change, physical exertion may be a catalyst for internalization when combined with audio messages.
The idea of inserting persuasive messaging during physical work is nothing new. Drill sergeants and football coaches have been using the tactics forever, repeating their favorite mantras while their target audience sweats. And judging by college football TV it works; just listen to athlete interviews and count the number of internalized messages that are dredged up when put on the spot.
Brands that advertise on a podcast that’s consumed while exercising now get their turn to play coach.
User personas are great tools for focusing messaging and keeping your users’ motivations at the forefront when developing content and products. A classic way of displaying a user persona internally is through a visual poster that can be hung on a wall. To add more color, and to make things more practical, you can pull the profile off of the wall and onto the screen with web advertising.
The interest map
To start, create a new user profile on your OS. This will make it easy to switch profiles and not contaminate one group of data with another.
Then, start creating a digital footprint with your user’s pain points in mind. In the fictional example of Mary Manning, she’s a middle aged real estate agent who lives in Nashville. Based on her user persona, she may visit sites about marketing, look at products that she can use in her real estate career and of course do some social networking.
Creating click streams that advertisers will tap into will take some work. Spread the task over days or weeks to build a robust click stream. To make it easier for them to identify and target your persona, make sure to fill out profiles with the big data collectors like Facebook and Twitter. Retargeting campaigns are especially prevalent on the web so visit some content and product sites that may have a budget to lure you back. If you click on a web advertisement to begin a visit, you’re more likely to be tracked and put into a retargeting bucket.
Viewing the Results
After ‘Mary’ has made her interests and shopping patterns known, you can start to see how her world is impacted by other advertisements, providing great context for your own messaging strategy. Browsing general interest sites like local news pages and weather forecasts should start to reveal which companies are spending money to reach your ideal users.
After spending some time walking in Mary’s shoes, you might be surprised to learn which companies are dominating her attention, especially if they are not a direct competitor for your product or service.
Treat your personas’ digital footprints as assets, updating the stream once in a while. Then you can tap into a live picture of her world any time you need to, and get a real picture of her potential experience online, based on real (virtual) world conditions.
When it comes to interactions with brands, consumer expectations continue to climb. Users want to be treated as individuals, especially younger audiences that grew up immersed in digital media. This has been driving the trend in marketing toward segmentation and personalization, which generally results in better experiences and better response rates.
But mass personalization can be difficult to manage for marketing departments. The more that segment definitions explode the more there is to tailor, monitor and adjust. The solution seems to be to gather as much data as possible and to develop a robust profile on each individual contact and then to turn the content-matching task over to algorithms and machine learning. Micro-segmentation gets at the spirit of creating personalized experiences appropriate for individuals but there is a point of diminishing returns. Attempting to custom tailor messages per user shouldn’t come at the cost of efficiency of workflow or human-directed editorial work.
Marketing departments that use user personas arrive at a good compromise between no personalization and attempting to modify messaging for each unique customer. Personas hit upon the key use cases and drive focus versus trying to be everything to everybody. Making messaging work for a small number of personas is a realistic task for content editors and you don’t have to turn over your end product to a black box.
Persona template by Chase Oliver
But beyond the practical reasons for using personas for the sake of getting arms around the work, there’s another reason why they work: archetypes are a powerful way to address how users think about themselves. They provide context and understanding for the complex themes of self identify. Marketers are on one side of the equation trying to interpret what all of the data inputs on customers mean and users are on the other side trying to do the same thing. Archetypes offer a shortcut to understanding for both.
People are irrational thinkers and identity constructs are constantly in flux. A young person might consider herself a saver and financial conservative most days and yet contradict that when it comes to loves travel. If you asked her she’d probably have a hard time communicating all the complex reasons she acts the way she does. But she might reach for an archetype of her own and explain that she’s both a saver and an adventurer at heart.
Having mountains of data is always helpful but the ideal output isn’t ultra-refined segments that are one-to-one with individuals. Having well informed personas, even if they are fictional, can serve the purpose of tailoring products and messaging best. Companies look to them to bring clarity to how their product serves their key markets. And customers lean on personas to understand their own motivations and to develop a self identity.
The same person may wear a persona that doesn’t fit a company’s approach one day and then change into another that is compatible down the line.
In our culture we all face an onslaught of demands for our attention. As a coping mechanism, we all have ways of sorting information whether it’s a formal system or not. Marketing that offers context for how a message should be filed stands a better chance at landing in the right spot for recall and action later on.
It’s rare when our messages arrive at exactly the right time so plan on being filed along the way.
Here are a few examples of organization tools and how a message can be crafted to address them.
Context: calendar date
This is probably the most universal way of managing time and priority. If your offer can be linked to a date, shoot for something not more than 10 days out. Beyond that you risk falling out of the near term mindset most people live in. Failing that, link your date to a holiday or the beginning or end of the month or year to boost recall. “If you are thinking about getting in shape, stop in to our gym before the end of this month to get a free tour and we’ll waive the membership fee.”
Context: sequential order
If you can put your message within a link of events, you stand a great chance at being associated with the desired outcome. “Before you go on your next family road trip, make sure you check your tire treads to make sure you’re safe. We offer free tire inspections at all locations…”
Context: long term importance
We all struggle with balancing short and long term goals. And it’s easy to feel guilty and discouraged when we realize that some of those goals are behind or off track. If you can connect the dots between what you’re offering and making progress on important goals, you are not likely to be brushed aside. “For those looking to learn photography, we offer a free 15 minute introduction video for absolute beginners.”
Context: future conversations
There are conversations that we’re all likely to have whether they’re with our spouses and family or annual visits to the doctor or conversations with our coworkers. Plant the seed that says ‘don’t forget to mention such and such to so and so’, and your message can be connected to that next interaction. “Ask about sonic toothbrush technology at your next dentist cleaning.”
Boost recall further by offering specific tools to file information. “Pin these recipes for your upcoming Superbowl party” or “print a checklist for packing for Disney World” or “take this sticker to remind you of your next oil change,” etc.
Offer a TL:DR summary at the top of the post or content piece to help people judge where and how they can save the info for later.
Business are all competing to gain attention in a busy world and consumers are fending off information overload through mental filing. Crafting messages with that filing in mind can help cut through the noise long term.
I came across a tactic worth testing and thought I’d share. For content marketers utilizing Pinterest, this simple tip could help boost click through rate from Pins and referral traffic to your site.
For brands showing their products in action in a Results Pin, try offering a small version on Pinterest, say 300 pixels wide, and holding back the high resolution one for your website. With a simple call to action in text, you can encourage users to view the bigger, nicer image hosted on your site. Those that want a good look at your beautiful image will need to leave Pinterest to get it.
On your site, you may choose to show your image on a page that includes call outs to your other content marketing (e.g. a gallery of similar images), links to the products featured in the image or simply your store’s site navigation.
With digital communication tools everywhere, there has never been more data available to marketers about users. It seems like we shouldn’t have a problem building rich profiles of user behaviors, interests and motivators. But the chance to create deep personalization all hinges on a single question that brands must ask for each point of data: Who are you?Linking behavior to identity can be extremely tricky online, with users using multiple devices and operating under any number of user names, accounts and aliases.
Finding an identifier for an individual used to be as simple as reaching for the White Pages. Once you had a name and a town, there was little confusion about who you were dealing with. Now there requires a variety of efforts of figuring out who is who, including home address, social media handles, cookies, accounts, 3rd party tagging services and the standard social security number. Of all the ways to pin down an id, cell phone and email have become the most useful.
Limits of cookies
The standard way of tracking behavior for sites, user cookies, is still effective. But it falls short in an increasingly multi-device world. Since cookies are stored on the user’s local machine, your site may not recognize them when they return from their tablet. And cookies have always had built in challenges from multiple users using the same machine in a public setting or at home. Have you ever seen ads show up while browsing on the home computer that were more appropriate for your spouse than for you?
Cell phones and email
Phone numbers and email addresses are more of a true identifier since they are permanent for most people. Both are seldom switched in real life and actually facilitate contact. If you want someone to be able to actually reach you, you’ve got to make your phone number known. Relying on any email is problematic, since it’s easy for users to have multiple email accounts including disposable or ‘junk’ addresses. So for the purposes of evaluating the value of data points, I’m referring to actual personal email addresses that receive expected mail. The cell phone number is probably the ideal unique key for keeping track of users in theory. With the ability to port numbers to any new phone, most consumers are loathe to switch their number for any reason and numbers are not quite as easy to fake.
Email for the win
The issue that tips the scales in favor of email is collection. Users aren’t as likely to share their phone number with brands and if they do, they don’t expect to receive marketing messages by call or by text. There are so many more opportunities to collect and use emails. Email addresses are readily shared, especially in return for valuable content. If they do sign up for a newsletter, brands can append their hyperlinks with a unique userid in case customers are consuming emails on a different device. They are also the standard username for social sites, which helps sites with social log-in features to link together separate visits to the same user.
The best choice of all is to make use of all identification opportunities and utilize them to tailor experiences as much as possible. But all data points available to collect are not created equal. Email will serve as the best foundation for building a robust personalized experience for users.
There are so many ways for brands to use Pinterest, I thought I would put together a summary of pin types and what they’re good for.
#1 Title Pin
Title pins represent content that’s hosted elsewhere. Good ones use eye catching visuals and text that’s readable in its thumbnail form. These pins aim to pass users from pinterest.com to the destination site.
#2 Long Form
These pins are self contained and offer all of the content in the image. Using these pins encourages repins and can gain the brand more followers.
It might be a single image that represents a larger gallery, or one tip from a list of ten. This hybrid type offers some of the content directly in the Pin, while promising more if the user clicks through to the site.
#4 Sale Pin
Announcing a sale can directly affect business, but these pins are much less likely to get passed along. The pins also easily become outdated.
For brands that have a loyal following, your fans may simply want a pin that represents your business to show the world who they love.
#6 Product Category
Best for brands within niche solutions or for market leaders within their category, these pins present the features of a product without naming the company at all.
Product pins are the most natural way for Pinterest users to interact with brands. Verify your business and use rich pin meta data for the best effect.
Some pins are all about self expression. Users pin these to tell the world what they’re all about. Design a great badge pin that represents your industry and grow your brand.
#9 Results Pin
These images sell your products by showing the net result. The pin can link to your tutorial for more details on how to achieve the result, or can reference your product in the pin description.
When we talk about content marketing, marketers are usually referring to those ambiguously successful efforts like brand building, awareness and top of the funnel engagement. Efforts not accountable to sales numbers, of course. How about a form of content marketing that boosts the selling price of an item 9 times over? Check out this bandana for sale at the Austin airport.
There’s nothing to distinguish this bandana from one you can buy at a drug store for less than a dollar. Except for the packaging. Printed on low budget construction paper, the content turns an ordinary bandana into a cowboy bandana, perfect for business travelers looking for a last minute souvenir. (This is Texas after all.) Plus you get the list of all the amazing things you can do with the bandana which includes such helpful suggestions as ‘a sling for a broken arm’ and ‘a muzzle for a biting horse.’ It’s one of those things where you know it’s kind of lame, and the person you give it to knows, but it qualifies as an appropriate gift so you get credit anyways. In the end the ten cent piece of paper turns the $1 bandana into a $8.99 souvenir gift. Now that’s what I call content marketing with ROI!